“The Skeleton Twins”

Skeleton Twins

The Skeleton Twins (Craig Johnson, 2014)

The second feature from Craig Johnson (True Adolescents) opens today at Baltimore’s Charles Theatre, and it’s a major step up from film #1 in terms of production quality, story and star power. In Johnson’s freshman effort – which starred Mark Duplass (Your Sister’s Sister), who on this new film is the Executive Producer – the writer/director already demonstrated a strong understanding of script structure and a fine way with actors, but here he takes it to a whole new level. Working with veteran “Saturday Night Live” performers Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids) and Bill Hader (Adventureland), Johnson has crafted a moving story of family and sibling bonds that mixes tragedy and comedy in equal measure, and is a powerful showcase for the sizable dramatic talents of his two leads. The film is by no means perfect – the ending, for me, felt completely contrived and unbelievable – but the pros far outweigh the cons, and it’s made with such panache that I forgive it its few weaknesses.

The Skeleton Twins tells the moving story of fraternal twins Maggie (Wiig) and Milo (Hader) Dean, who must overcome a 10-year estrangement when one of them attempts suicide and lands in the hospital. Filled with brilliantly funny moments, the film is nevertheless an emotionally wrenching and intense tale of the ties that bind us all, siblings or not. While Wiig and Hader may not be entirely believable, genetically, as twins, their ease and comfort with each other after years together on television makes them a great fit as sister and brother: they complement each other perfectly in tone and pitch. And even though Andrew O’Hehir, in Salon – while he praises the film – worries that Hader (who is straight), playing the gay Milo, may come too close to “gay typology or even stereotype” for comfort, I found Hader to be the best thing about the movie (plus, the director, himself, is gay, so if he’s OK with it . . .). His pain and joy at being alive are infectious, and his lip sync of the horrible 1980s Starship ballad “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” is worth the price of admission, alone.

The film also stars Luke Wilson (Legally Blonde), Ty Burrell (“Modern Family“), Joanna Gleason (“Love & War“) and relative newcomer Boyd Holbrook (2014 Maryland Film Festival closing film Little Accidents), all of whom impress, as well. It’s also shot by noted cinematographer Reed Morano (Kill Your Darlings), who brings an intoxicatingly hypnotic visual aesthetic to the story. I presented it last week at Cinema Sundays at the Charles, and the audience reaction was overwhelmingly positive. I definitely recommend!

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